When City Council meets for the first time January 4, the five councilors will vote for a new mayor, which typically is already a done deal, and rumor is Mike Signer, incoming city councilor, has the three votes necessary to secure the mayorship.
Signer, understandably, declined to confirm he has the job in the pocket, saying only by e-mail that he’s looking forward to serving with every one of his fellow councilors, that it will be “an honor to work with them in any position” and that the decision will be made by council January 4.
His initial run for office was for lieutenant governor, so it’s not much of a stretch to see him settling for mayor as his first elected gig.
Kristin Szakos has the most seniority on council, but she, too, refused to say whether she was even interested in the job. “I’m not ready to talk about that,” she says.
Kathy Galvin is next in seniority, but didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“A lot of conversations are taking place,” says City Councilor Bob Fenwick. “Mike’s got great credentials and so do several others.” Fenwick took himself out of the running because he’s working, and because Galvin works full-time as an architect, it’s possible she’s turned down the job as well.
“I could support Mike,” says Fenwick. “He works hard.”
And, assures Fenwick, anyone he doesn’t vote for, “it’s not personal, it’s for the good of the city.”
Wes Bellamy had the highest number of votes from the November 3 election (he was voted in alongside Galvin and Signer, who had the fewest of the three), and he says he’s heard nothing about Signer being mayor. But if Signer has it sewn up with Galvin and Fenwick, he doesn’t need Bellamy in the loop.
“It’s wide open,” says Mayor Satyendra Huja, who did not seek reelection and is stepping down after serving two two-year terms as mayor. “If someone wants to be mayor, they have to have three votes.”
Traditionally, says former mayor Dave Norris, the person with the most seniority and most popular votes is up for mayor. “They’re not hard and fast rules, but those two facts do carry weight,” he says.
“Kristin has the most seniority and got the most popular vote when she ran for reelection,” he says. “I think a lot of people are expecting she’ll be the next mayor.”
Norris favors a woman as mayor and points out that Charlottesville hasn’t had a female mayor since Virginia Daugherty had the job from 1998 to 2000. “In recent years it’s been a glass ceiling that’s been difficult to crack,” he says.
However, former mayor Tom Vandever notes that the current council has a majority of women—Szakos, Galvin and outgoing Vice Mayor Dede Smith—“and they didn’t elect a woman for whatever reason.”
Vandever was elected to City Council in 1988 after Frank Buck had served eight years as mayor. “We felt it was time for a fresh face and elected Bitsy Waters,” he says. “We returned council to the tradition of rotating the job,” and it helped “to have a new face every two years.” One of the objectives in 1988 was to have a woman in the position, and Waters was followed by Alvin Edwards, an African-American.
The mayor’s job is “essentially one among equals,” says Vandever, with no additional powers except for setting the agenda and running the meetings.
“The first rule of being a councilor is you’ve got to learn to count to three,” advises Vandever. “If you can’t, you shouldn’t be there.”
Kay Slaughter served as mayor from 1996 to 1998, and she thinks it’s helpful to have experience as a councilor before taking the mayor’s job. “I know people have come on and become mayor, but I do think it helps to serve on council and go through the budget process,” she says.
David Brown, who was elected mayor his first day on City Council in 2004 and served two terms as mayor, disagrees. “What I had experience doing was running meetings,” he says. “I’d been chair of lots of organizations. If Mike Signer ended up being mayor, he’d be good at it because, really, it’s about running the meeting.”
Brown acknowledges that seniority can be a factor, but when he came on council Kevin Lynch had the seniority and wasn’t interested in the job. “He asked me if I wanted to do it,” says Brown, and with consensus from Kendra Hamilton, he says, it was a fait accompli at the first meeting.
The same thing happened two years later when the job “would have rotated to Kendra if she wanted it, and Kevin still didn’t want it,” says Brown.
He dispels one other myth: “There’s no expectation the vice mayor will be mayor.”
Reminds Brown, “It’s always whoever had the votes. Plenty of people have wanted to be mayor and didn’t have the votes.”